The Brief: TikTok admitted to limiting the spread of content from disabled, fat, and LGBTQ+ creators as part of efforts to prevent cyber-bullying.
On Tuesday, TikTok admitted to flagging and hiding videos from fat, LGBTQ+, and disabled creators. The company acknowledged this after an article was published by the German site Netzpolitik, detailing this censorship.
According to the Netzpolitik article which cited leaked internal documents and an interview with a source at TikTok, the company had instructed content moderators to flag videos by certain creators including ones with visible disabilities, facial disfigurement, Down Syndrome, and Autism. TikTok then allegedly adjusted its algorithm to limit some of these videos to their creator’s home country, to control their spread, and/or to stop them from showing up on app’s For You page.
A TikTok spokesperson told Netzpolitik on Tuesday that these strategies were once in place, but are no longer in use, saying that “this approach was never intended to be a long-term solution.” Netzpolitik reported that these rules were in place as recently as September 2019, but TikTok stated that “while the intention was good, the approach was wrong and we have long since changed the earlier policy in favor of more nuanced anti-bullying policies and in-app protections.”
While content may have been censored with the intention of protecting creators who were particularly vulnerable to bullying, there are major issues with this type of censorship that could hurt creators themselves. Many people have asked why TikTok chose to focus on censoring people who might be bullied rather than bullies themselves. Not only does hiding content from these creators limit the scope of their videos, but it could also hinder their ability to earn money from their internet presence and limit the spread of perspectives from marginalized folks.
This is not the first censorship case that TikTok has been criticized for. Last week, the company apparently banned an American user for posting a video about the Chinese government’s mistreatment of Muslim residents before the company later apologized and reinstated her account.